Jaromir Jagr has been seen, but not heard much in these Stanley Cup playoffs, almost a romantic figure that fascinated the press with his late-night workouts and slavish devotion to fitness – and then wouldn’t talk about it.
All that changed Tuesday on media day, when the Boston Bruins arrived at the United Centre and Jagr was front-and-centre, holding court over a laundry list of topics.
Watch: Preview of Game 1 between the Hawks and Bruins
Most had forgotten that Jagr’s second trip to the Stanley Cup final as a 20-year-old back in 1992 came as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the opponents were Mike Keenan’s Chicago Blackhawks. It was the old Chicago Stadium days, where players had to walk up a set of stairs to get to ice level from their dressing room. Upon alighting, they were confronted by a wall of sound in an aging, engaging building with a less-than-regulation size ice surface that the Blackhawks used to their advantage. It was close quarters, but Jagr always did well in close quarters, his large wingspan permitting him to shield the puck in the offensive zone, pirouetting this way and that way before making a play.
Jagr, at 41, has slowed down considerably since then, but puck possession, and the ability to make a pinpoint pass remain staples of his offensive arsenal. Fifteen different players have scored goals for the Bruins this post-season, but Jagr isn’t one of them. For his career, Jagr has 196 playoff points, tied for fifth on the all-time list with Paul Coffey, but this spring, he has just seven assists in 16 games, and it’s not as if he’s stopped shooting either. His 45 shots on goal are within range of the team lead. But he has gradually found a place on the Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand line, essentially knocking Tyler Seguin down into the bottom six forwards, and seemed to fit in far better during the third-round sweep of the Penguins than he did in the first-round struggles over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The more than two decades between Stanley Cup appearances for Jagr is just too juicy a story line to ignore, but when the matter came up Tuesday, typically, he had a thoughtful response. Until tonight, the last time he played a game in a Stanley Cup final was June 1, 1992 in the city of Chicago. Did he ever expect to get back here?
Yes, he did.
“It's a goal for any hockey player, any team, before the season starts (to play in the Stanley Cup final),” said Jagr. “You have 30 teams. They've all got one goal: to win the Cup. They all do maximum for that. Only one can do it. The next season starts again, and everybody has the same goal again and again and again. Twenty years later, I'm here.”
Well, that one broke up the house.
As did a question about how young he looked back then and how much greyer he is now. And then there was the hair, peeking out from the back of his helmet, long and flowing. You don’t get a lot of questions about hairstyles at the podium on NHL media day – TMZ hasn’t infiltrated yet – but you did Tuesday.
“Well, you know, when I had the long hair, I wouldn't say it was a style, but I wasn't the only one who had it,” said Jagr. “There was a lot of guys, maybe not that long, but a lot of guys wearing long hair, so...
“Now it's a different style. But it's going to come back. Everything is just coming back. 10 years later, you'll see a lot of guys with long hair.”
Much has been made of the fact that the Bruins and Blackhawks didn’t play each other in the regular season, but Jagr represents the exception. He played for the Dallas Stars until the trading deadline, signing with them last year, after a season with the Philadelphia Flyers. Jagr remembers getting clobbered 8-0 in a game (it was actually 8-1), but the point remains the same.
“I thought they were the best team in that conference, for sure,” said Jagr. “They played different hockey than any other teams in that conference. They're quick. So talented up front, and quick on defence. I think it was a huge difference compared to other teams. They're so fast and everybody can move the puck on their defence. So we have to be careful of that.”
Jagr was always positioned in Boston as a sort of consolation prize, the player they targeted after their overtures for Jarome Iginla fell through. It was a bit of a mad scramble at the trading deadline to get a deal done and Jagr acknowledged: “To be honest, I was shocked to get traded. I thought I was going to stay in Dallas. It was kind of a last-minute decision from the management. I don't think many teams knew I was going to get traded. So when they met me that morning, the Dallas management told me I going to get traded and it was up to me if I wanted to go or not.
“When I talked to the (Boston) boss, I asked him like three times: ‘Are you sure you want me?’ They said, ‘Yeah.’ So here I am.”
Many thought that when Jagr arrived in Boston, he would immediately play on a line with fellow Czech David Krejci. Instead, Krejci has been playing between Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic on an extremely effective line for the Bruins, so he mostly gets to see his childhood idol play from the bench, not the ice surface.
“Every time they showed hockey on TV, it was always Pittsburgh,” said Krejci, about growing up in the Czech Republic. “I don't remember any other team.
“If you ask any hockey player from Czech who is my age something like that, everybody is going to say that Jagr is their favourite player. I'm glad he's still playing and I'm on his team right now.”